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Seeing Light: Authority Magazine Feature

Dr. Dana McNeil
Latest posts by Dr. Dana McNeil (see all)

I was recently interviewed by Dr. Ely Weinschneider, Psy.D of Authority Magazine for an article titled Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel: 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis.” As we are beginning to see the world slowly start opening up (although limited), this article is timely. I’d like to pull some highlights out which could help improve mental health and feelings.

Listen without “fixing” feelings.

When you really listen to someone without judgment or any intention of getting them over their feelings, then you are giving the best and most important gift you can bestow on someone you care about. The people in your life know you can’t actually “fix” them, and they are not looking to you to do so.

Most of us want to know and feel that we are not wrong or broken for having the feelings that we do. We want to hear someone else acknowledge our pain, frustration, and confusion with validation and empathy.

There is nothing that will shut down a connection or conversation quicker than hearing another person respond to our expression of worry or fear by telling us, “You know what you should do…”. We aren’t looking for someone to tell us how to fix our feelings. We are all smart and capable of solving problems.

When people open their hearts and become vulnerable with their feelings, they are looking for the person on the receiving end to be touched and receive shared feelings with respect and love.

The vulnerable person wants to hear that their feelings are acknowledged, that it is reasonable for them to feel the way they do, and that it makes sense for them to experience anxiety based upon the way they are perceiving events in the world.

Acknowledging these feelings doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree or would even react the same way. You are simply telling the person that they are entitled to feel the way they do, and that based on what you are hearing of their experience, you also understand they are experiencing accompanying anxiety.

Have regular stress-reducing conversations.

Take 20 minutes each day to check in with your loved one about how they are doing emotionally.

Don’t focus on the behaviors of the day (e.g. how they did at work or what issues they had with the kids) without also checking in as to how those activities impacted them emotionally. When a partner, family member, or friend talks about how something went during the day and you hear a feeling lingering in their words, point it out or ask about it.

If they are telling you about the way a meeting went at work or the difficulties they had on their video conference call, ask them about how it feels to be working from home and what are the hardest parts about being away from the office. Check-in with them about what they are missing most from their daily routine — or what parts they aren’t missing at all.

You know your partner but there is always something more to learn from them, and we all are new at dealing with this sort of crisis. Your loved one has lots of emotions happening for them right now, even if they aren’t speaking up or telling you they need to talk.

Encourage structured routines to be followed or start new ones. 

I am a big fan of creating a morning ritual that sets the tone for the day ahead. My morning ritual starts with a slow launch into the world by spending time by myself journaling, reading, eating a healthy breakfast, and ten minutes of mediation.

This quiet wake-up routine is followed by taking my dog for a walk while listening to a podcast, and then about 20 minutes of yoga. I use an app called Insight Timer that has guided meditations covering almost any topic or feeling I might be dealing with on a given day.

These practices are a non-negotiable part of starting my day. Yes, they absolutely require that I get up earlier in the morning. The trade-off is that I have taken time for myself so that I am able to start my day more grounded and fulfilled.

We are all feeling drained emotionally, mentally, and physically these days more than ever. We are not going to be the best we can be for our employers, children, or partners unless we take the opportunity to prepare to be more fully present with the people in our lives.

For those who have anxiety, the big fear is the loss of control and not being able to predict or prepare for what might happen. Morning rituals are a reminder that some things in life haven’t changed. These predictable behaviors create predictable outcomes and keep your brain organized and soothed by rituals that anchor you.

Schedule regular events with friends.

Thursday nights at 5:00 have become a standing virtual happy hour for our friends. We look forward to seeing each other’s faces, sharing in our collective worries (and our collective hopes), and being reminded how funny our friends can be. This is a real source of support and connection during these uncertain times. Laughter is definitely the best medicine right now.

Connect with someone today. 

Who needs to hear from you today? Reach out to those friends, co-workers, or family members that might be either feeling alone or needing a break from their current stressors and would be cheered up by a call or text from you.

Just letting someone know you thought of them or wanted to share a new show you have been binge-watching that made you think of them is a nice gift to share. You are not the only person in your world who likely feels anxious or worried about the current state of events.

Some people don’t feel like it’s ok to complain or seek support because they don’t want to feel like a burden to the people in their lives who also have their own set of problems.

Letting someone you love know that it’s ok to express their worries and fears to you can also help put things in perspective for you and balance your thinking when you are feeling anxious yourself. Remember, it’s not your job to fix others’ feelings.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Meditation. There are tons of free or minimal cost apps you can download on your phone to use whenever you can find 5 to 10 minutes to pop on a pair of headphones and go in a quiet space. Investing just a few minutes a day can have a huge benefit in quieting down the anxious chatter and frustration in your head.

Mediation is also something that you can do that doesn’t require you to seek out any special skills. Most apps have guided meditations that will walk you through how to breathe and will remind you when you have gotten lost in thought. Getting lost in thought is ok by the way! The point of meditation is not to completely clear your mind of thoughts — that’s not possible! The brain is meant to process thoughts. The point of mediation is to notice when you have gotten carried away with thoughts and pull yourself mentally back to the here and now.

We call this grounding in the therapy world, and the value in doing is that it helps remind you that at that very moment you are safe. It’s only when you get lost in thought wishing things were different than they are, or worrying and catastrophe-thinking about what possibly could happen, that you lose perspective.

Creative or purposeful distraction.

Grab an adult coloring book, pull some weeds from your yard, fold your laundry, or reorganize your dresser drawer while listening to an inspirational podcast. Do something with your body and mind that facilitates changing your thoughts and focus.

I recommend my clients try to do something for about 20 minutes to change up the obtrusive and obsessive thoughts they are lost in. This is the right amount of time to tell your brain to shift gears. Adding in doing something that feels creative or leaves you with a sense of accomplishment or purpose simultaneously acts to soothe those worries and fears.

Seek out mental health support. How are you feeling?

Now more than ever our mental health providers are our biggest sources of support. In a world that doesn’t make sense, we need better reinforcement or development of coping skills to get through the days of worry and uncertainty.

We are at a time in life we haven’t been in before, and it might be time to seek out some new skills or work on the underlying traumas or triggers that are coming up during this time of uncertainty. Many clients are re-experiencing the pain of old wounds during this time because they feel so familiar to times in life where they have felt confused, scared, uncertain, and powerless. Now is the time to seek out help to manage those painful feelings and re-traumatization.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is by Byron Katie: “Notice that everything is happening FOR me, NOT to me.” What she means by this is that everything happens exactly as it should in the right way, the right time, and at the right moment. If it wasn’t as it should be, then it wouldn’t be happening at all.

The only way to avoid suffering is to find a way to accept the reality of a situation. We can’t always avoid pain. Sometimes it is inevitable, but we can avoid suffering. The suffering comes from the way we think about a situation. If we get caught up in thinking that a situation should or shouldn’t be happening, then we are caught up in suffering.

The relief starts to come when we accept the situation as it is happening and become present at the moment. Only in presence can we see the next indicated step clearly. The next indicated step only materializes when we stop wasting energy and emotional space on denying or attempting to stop what is the reality.

This way of viewing the world doesn’t come easy, and I often must remind myself to accept what the reality of a situation is because I don’t like what is happening. I honestly believe that when we can accept our current moment, then we are more likely to spot the blessings at the moment in ways that prove the universe did show up and look out for us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

People often tend to become defensive in order to protect themselves when getting into a conflict. I would advocate for a movement to help people notice when that happens and to do something about it.

By finding even one thing that I did that led to the disagreement and taking responsibility for it, I can completely defuse the negative energy of the moment.

I am not saying one should take responsibility for the whole issue or say they are at fault for the disagreement, but finding something they did that contributed to it will help prevent escalation of the conflict. It doesn’t cost anything to say, for instance, “I am sorry. I was distracted and wasn’t listening as carefully as you deserved,” or “I’m sorry. I didn’t eat lunch today and I’m sounding edgy.” Taking the first steps to bring down the stress level of a potential conflict also just feels good because it says, “I notice my part in things and I want to take responsibility for what I contributed to the conversation going sideways.”

This simple but powerful act helps to start to defuse any situation and model vulnerability and intention to reduce conflict and start repair attempts.

At The Relationship Place, we believe every individual can benefit from therapy. For a free consultation, schedule a free consultation with us today!

You can view the whole article here. 

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